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It might be easy for some to write off the Damon Evans saga as yet another case of a person in the public eye who couldn't control his ego and appetites, done in by too much liquor and too little good sense.
We've seen it from sports figures, celebrities and politicians, a template for fallen icons: Caught driving drunk, embarrassing details from the police report, a hideous booking photo. Or the dalliance with a young lady (or man) who doesn't have a matching wedding ring. In Evans' case, both in one fateful night.
But in this case, he is not some distant figure seen only on TV. Evans is one of us, a son of Gainesville who made his friends, classmates and hometown proud. A high school sports star with good grades, a true role model, the product of a strong upbringing from good parents, Sam and Diane Evans. On to college he went as a football standout, then to graduate school, eventually ascending to the athletic director's post at the state's flagship university in his early 30s. "Gainesville's own" Damon Evans, we all were proud to call him.
His friends and family still are, knowing there is a good man behind the sordid headlines. But his status as one of our town's influential figures has been sullied by his poor judgment, a night of excess that cost him his job, and perhaps more.
It's difficult for many of us to comprehend how someone who has so much can throw it away on a few martinis. To dig a little deeper, we looked back when Evans first began his rise. A story by former Times writer Dan Washburn reveals some of the details of Evans' character that shed light of what we now know.
Published 10 years ago in July 2000, you can see snippets of that self-confidence that perhaps led him to lose his humility:
"I'm kind of the guy that everyone comes to when they need something done," Evans told Washburn after his appointment as assistant AD to UGA legend Vince Dooley.
"I've always wanted to do things ahead of time," Evans said. "I've always wanted to be the youngest AD ever at a big-time Division I-A institution."
"He's on the fast track, sure," Dooley said of Evans. "I think he is destined for big things, but he's got big things right now."
With the UGA position came prestige, a big salary, new cars, the trappings of success. But with that also can come a sense of entitlement, that one is so destined to succeed. It may be that Evans thought he was bulletproof the night he got behind the wheel of his car in Atlanta after several drinks, perhaps sure that someone as capable and in control as he could handle it even if the rest of us mortals cannot.
We see it in the police report when he seemed to think he could talk the officer out of arresting him. Even the woman with him kept insisting that he "would get off" because of his name recognition. But the hard lesson Evans learned is that we all are too human when we reach too far and assume nothing can bring us down.
As the report indicates, Evans was joking and at ease with the state patrolman at the beginning of the incident, but tearful and remorseful by its end. In that short time, the realization of his blunder hit him like a blitzing linebacker. He now understands, all too late, that even the best and brightest can be done in by their own arrogance.
It is likely that someone of Evans' abilities will bounce back. He's only 40; we are a forgiving society that welcomes redemption. By learning such a hard lesson, he can make better decisions in the future, work to repair damage done to his family life and come back strong. No one should count him out.
Still, something has been lost. He is no longer Damon Evans, wunderkind, the slick young man on the move. He is a fallen hero with scars that will never heal. He knows this and must live with it.
The lesson is one we all should learn about thinking too much of those who think too much of themselves. More specifically, the incident provides the best possible example for why no one should get behind the wheel after tilting back a few cocktails. Just a week before Evans' misadventure, the lives of two families were crushed when a drunken driver hit and killed an intern from the governor's office.
Both incidents remind us that nothing good that can come from operating a vehicle while under the influence. We should never assume we are better or wiser than the laws that are designed to protect us.
We wish Evans well in the future and hope he can repair the damage done to his reputation and personal life. Our best wishes are with Sam and Diane, with Kerri and the Evans children, and all of their family and friends who have suffered from the consequences of his actions.
A local hero has fallen on his own sword, yet we'll gladly accept him back into our community as a humbled, contrite friend who made a terrible mistake and is willing to learn from it. In fact, from now on, Damon Evans might need Gainesville more than Gainesville ever needed him.